Videoconferencing is an effective instrument that facilitates and accelerates cross-border procedures while reducing the associated costs. Thanks to this system, the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office can act more easily on issues such as international humanitarian law, maritime piracy, terrorism, cross-border organized crime, etc. . In addition to the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, the system may also be used by other prosecutors and investigating judges in the country.
According to the Minister of Justice, Annemie Turtelboom: “Every year there are many rogatory commissions that generate high costs. The use of videoconferencing for letters rogatory, in which Belgium is a requesting party, will not only have a positive influence on time management and the rationalization of certain movements of magistrates and police officers, but will also court costs “.
European project: Transnational Use of business video conferencing
In February 2011, SPF Justice became part of the European project “Transnational Use of Videoconferencing – True-to-Life Implementation”. In cross-border judicial proceedings, this project aimed to exchange good practices between the participating Member States and to carry out a greater number of field installations in the different Member States. The other participating Member States were the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Latvia, Romania and Slovenia.
The installation of the video conferencing equipment was almost totally covered by the European Union for a total amount of € 90,000. In order to make use of these European funds, the installation had to meet technical criteria to ensure that the videoconference remained faithful to reality. These “True-to-life” criteria relate to a set of factors such as visual contact, synchronization between the image and sound, placement of cameras, screens, lighting, color, sound, …. These criteria are essential to guarantee the interests of all the participants (the accused, the witness, the judge, the lawyer, …). The image and sound must be of such quality that the person concerned has a clear and realistic idea of what is happening in the other place.
In the search for a suitable space for this facility, the premises of Ghent (Court of Appeal) and Brussels (Procuracy, Court of Appeal and Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office) were taken into account. Since the focus of this project was mainly on the transnational nature of videoconferencing, it was the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office that was ultimately chosen.
The use of videoconferencing is particularly useful in the context of international judicial relations and the execution of international letters rogatory. Videoconferencing can be used as an example in the context of:
Of maritime piracy
Of offenses committed by Belgian soldiers on missions abroad
The protection of witnesses under threat, the hearing of witnesses or experts resident abroad
Serious violations of international humanitarian law
Of international cooperation: exchange of information or the organization of consultation meetings, in particular with Eurojust, and the execution of international rogatory commissions
The suppression of terrorism and serious and organized cross-border crime
The installation of the video conferencing system will also be made available to all the courts and tribunals of the country. It could be used, for example, in the context of:
A Belgian public prosecutor who wishes to organize a meeting with a foreign judicial authority in the context of an international letter rogatory or for a simple exchange of information
The hearing of a witness, an expert, an accused who is abroad
A consultation between a public prosecutor’s office and a foreign police authority
The hearing of an anonymous witness
Videoconference in figures
The advantages of this installation are mainly saving time and reducing costs. In principle, a foreign rogatory commission consists of investigators and sometimes magistrates who visit in person in a foreign country in order to be present at the hearing of, for example, a suspect or a witness in a Belgian case. Using videoconferencing this shift is avoided, resulting in significant cost reduction and more efficient use of human resources. In 2010, the cost of about forty letters rogatory and European arrest warrants from the Federal Prosecutor’s Office amounted to more than 320,000 euros.
Since the installation of the system at the Federal Prosecutor’s Office videoconferences have been used 4 times in the framework of execution of international rogatory commissions and a resumption for a consultation and coordination meeting with foreign colleagues in an ongoing file.